Jerdon’s Babbler rediscovered in Myanmar

Jerdon’s Babbler, rediscovered in Myanmar in May 2014 © Robert Tizard / WCS

5th March 2015—Jerdon’s Babbler Chrysomma altirostre has been rediscovered in Myanmar by a scientific team from WCS, Myanmar’s Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division – MOECAF, and National University of Singapore (NUS).

Jerdon’s Babbler had last been seen in Myanmar in July 1941 and was considered by many to be extinct in the country.

News of the exciting rediscovery has been unveiled in the latest issue of BirdingASIA, the six-monthly journal of the Oriental Bird Club.

The printed article will be distributed to Club members, while an electronic version can be downloaded here: BirdingAsia22 pp13-15 (PDF, 50 KB)

The team rediscovered Jerdon’s Babbler on 30th May 2014 while surveying grasslands near the town of Myitkyo, Bago Region near the Sittaung River, close to an abandoned agricultural station.

After hearing a distinctive call, scientists played back a recording and were rewarded with the sighting of an adult Jerdon’s Babbler.

Jerdon’s Babbler, Myanmar © Robert Tizard / WCS

During the next two days, the team repeatedly found Jerdon’s Babblers at several locations in the immediate vicinity and mistnetted individuals to obtain blood samples and high-quality photographs.

The small brown bird, about the size of a House Sparrow Passer domesticus, was initially described by British naturalist T. C. Jerdon in January 1862, who found it in grassy plains near Thayetmyo, Myanmar.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the species was common in the vast natural grassland that once covered the Ayeyarwady and Sittaung flood plains around Yangon. Since then, agriculture and communities have gradually replaced most of these grasslands as the area has developed.

“The degradation of these vast grasslands had led many to consider this subspecies of Jerdon’s Babbler extinct. This discovery not only proves that the species still exists in Myanmar but that the habitat can still be found as well. Future work is needed to identify remaining pockets of natural grassland and develop systems for local communities to conserve and benefit from them,” said Colin Poole, Director of WCS’s Regional Conservation Hub in Singapore.

Jerdon’s Babblers in Myanmar are currently considered as one of three subspecies found in the Indus, Bhramaputra, and Ayeyarwady River basins in South Asia. All show subtle differences and may yet prove to be distinctive species.

Further analysis of DNA samples taken from the bird will be studied at the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science, to determine if Jerdon’s babbler in Myanmar should be considered a full species. If so, the species would be exclusive to Myanmar and be of very high conservation concern because of its fragmented and threatened habitat.

“Our sound recordings indicate that there may be pronounced bioacoustic differences between the Myanmar subspecies and those further west, and genetic data may well confirm the distinctness of the Myanmar population,” said Professor Frank Rheindt of NUS’s Department of Biological Sciences and a key member of the field team and leader of the genetic analysis.

This work was carried out as part of a larger study to understand the genetics of Myanmar bird species and determine the true level of bird diversity found in the country. Already Myanmar has more species of bird than any other country in mainland Southeast Asia and this number is likely to increase as our understanding of birds in this long isolated country continues to grow.

WCS’s work in Myanmar which led to this discovery was supported by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Oriental Bird Club, UK registered charity 297242, is for birders and ornithologists around the world who are interested in birds of the Oriental region and their conservation. The Club’s aims are to encourage an interest in wild birds of the Oriental region and their conservation, to promote the work of regional bird and nature societies and to collate and publish information on Oriental birds. The Club is run by a team of dedicated volunteers.

Forktail 30 available

Forktail30-coverOBC members should already have received Forktail 30, the latest issue of the Club’s peer-reviewed journal of Asian ornithology.

As ever, the publcation is packed with the latest ornithological papers relating to the avifauna of the Oriental region.

The full contents from each issue are posted  on the OBC website, but it’s a publication you simply can’t afford to miss: so join OBC today and you will receive two issues of BirdingASIA every year, plus once a year, Forktail, the Club’s peer-reviewed journal publishing original ornithological research from the region.

2016: visit Koko Nor, deserts, Roof of the World & SE Qinghai with OBC

Taxonomic enigma: Pink-tailed Bunting. (c) Richard Thomas

In 2016, there will be an exciting opportunity for OBC members to visit the Koko Nor, deserts, Roof of the World & SE Qinghai on an OBC on a trip led by Jesper Hornskov.

By Jesper Hornskov* ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 1st October 2014.

Situated in western China, rugged Qinghai province is the ideal place to see a mix of Central Asian specialities, Chinese / Tibetan endemics, and isolated populations of otherwise mostly Siberian species. In zoogeographic terms we will be visiting the Tibetan Plateau and the deep valleys of its eastern fringes, with the latter showing particularly strong affinities with the least accessible parts of neighbouring Sichuan, known for its avifaunally rich Panda reserves.

Unlike China’s ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’ (which could remain trapped in the current unrest- and-clampdown cycle for years to come, making both Lhasa & SE Tibet chronically uncertain destinations), Qinghai – with scenery fully on par with the very best in parts of ‘geographical Tibet’ now administered by neighbouring provinces – offers excellent, reliable & (with comparatively less developed tourism) affordable access to Tibet’s array of unique birds, mammals & flora.

Full itinerary and more details (PDF, 350 KB)

 

BirdingASIA 21: latest issue available

BA21coverOBC members should already have received BirdingASIA 21, the latest issue of the Club’s biannual publication, BirdingASIA.

As ever, the issue is packed with the latest information and ornithological sightings from the Oriental region. It includes articles on identification of raptors, Sillem’s Mountain Finch, Sakhalin’s Leaf-warbler,  Grey-breasted Babbler, Pale-capped Pigeon and more.

The full contents and sample articles from each issue are posted here on the OBC website, but it’s a publication you simply can’t afford to miss: so join OBC today and you will receive two issues of BirdingASIA every year, plus once a year, Forktail, the Club’s peer-reviewed journal publishing original ornithological research from the region.

Jewel Hunter available from OBC

THE_JEWEL_HUNTER_cover_LRThe Jewel Hunter, Chris Goodie’s gripping tale of his quest to see every species of true pitta inside a single calendar year is now available direct from Chris, with £4 from every sale going straight to the Oriental Bird Club.

To find out more about this exciting opportunity to read about one of the world’s great birding tales, please visit the OBC publications sales page.

Joint OBC meeting with BOC and NHM

Joint-meetingThe Club’s Annual General Meeting this year is being held jointly with the British Ornithologists’ Club & Natural History Museum on Saturday 22nd November 2014 at The Flett Theatre, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD.

A packed agenda includes talks by Dr Pamela Rasmussen on new species and rediscoveries, Dr Debbie Pain on saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Chris Gooddie on  Bukit Barisan Selatan, Dr Stuart Marsden on Asia’s large frugivorous birds, Dr Robert Prŷs-Jones on Allan Octavian Hume and Warblers and Dr Per Alstrom on warblers and larks.

The meeting is open to members and non-members of OBC and BOC. Admission is free to members, donations from non-members invited.

Full programme and details of how to reach the venue in the Joint Meeting Programme  (PDF, 150 KB).

Asian ibis on the Edge

ibis_copy1

Giant Ibis (c) James Eaton / BirdtourAsia

An assessment by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Yale University of bird species worldwide has helped produce a list of the top 100 most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) species.

Top of the list is the rare and striking Giant Ibis, which today can most easily be found in northern Cambodia. Approximately 230 pairs remain in the wild, many of them protected by local campaigns run through the Sam Veasna Centre and BirdLife Cambodia. Chief threats to the ibis are habitat loss, human disturbance and hunting.

New bird family from the eastern Himalayas

spottedwbsessniap

The Spotted Elachura Elachura formosa, newly elevated to single-family status. (c) James Eaton / BirdtourASIA

DNA molecular analysis has revealed that the Spotted Wren-babbler is a unique species, unrelated to wren-babblers and is best placed in its own family, the Elachuridae.

Henceforth the species will be called the Spotted Elachura Elachura formosa.

The discovery, by Professor Per Alström and co-workers, is published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Molecular analysis of passerine families identified 10 separate evolutionary branches, one of which was unique to the Spotted Elachura, the only living representative of one of the earliest off-shoots within the passeriformes

The Spotted Elachura is extremely secretive and difficult to observe, usually staying hidden within dense tangled undergrowth in subtropical mountain forests.

The male’s high-pitched song doesn’t resemble any other continental Asian bird song. The close resemblance in appearance to wren-babbler species is thought due either to pure chance or convergent evolution.